Dialogue As Virtue

Yesterday UST’s Director of Campus Ministry, Fr. Erich Rutten, gave a talk at the law school titled Dialogue as Virtue. The goal of the talk was to help us reflect on how people of differing faiths can engage in and promote quality dialogue in the law school, the university and the state as a whole – an important virtue given our contentious political and religious landscape. He certainly gave us much to reflect on.

Early in his talk, Fr. Erich talked about the fact that, rather then being thought of as a virtue, dialogue is often seen as a vice. By that he meant that dialogue is sometimes seen as weakness – as a sign of compromise or “collaboration with the enemy” or as giving in. That feeling is reinforced by both images of culture “wars” and the contentiousness that characterizes both our political and economic discussions and our religious ones.

Seeing dialogue as virtue requires us to move from the image of war to the image of a common journey, a journey that requires that we not think of those with whom we disagree as “enemy” and that we understand that we are searching together for truth and wisdom.

In that vein, Fr. Erich drew an important distinction between debate and dialogue. A debate is a contest that invariably involves a winner and a loser and the currency of debate is persuasiveness, rather than truth.

Dialogue implies exchange and listening. It implies a sharing of perspectives and an openness to learning something from the other. And it assumes a common goal of finding truth – and recognizes the importance of that goal. It is neither about compromise nor vilification, but an openness to truly hearing the other.

We live in a difficult time. A time in which, as Fr. Rutten pointed out, we see conflict as entertainment and a time of great contentiousness. My hope is that we at UST can be participants in dialogue in a healing and loving manner.